Friday, 28 December 2012

Injuries from nowhere

A few weeks ago I noticed my foot was hurting. It was intermittent and not too bad but mostly puzzling, because I couldn't remember ever injuring it. Close examination soon revealed a nasty bruise on one toe but no clue as to how it got there. I was then reminded of accounts I've read of rare cases where witnesses have received unexplained bruises, scratches and similar marks on their body during haunting cases (particularly poltergeists).

Then, a couple of days later, I was getting out of bed when I accidently kicked something I'd placed on the floor nearby. It really hurt! That's because I'd hit the exact spot where the existing bruise was. I put it down to a nasty coincidence. But when I repeated the very same accident the next day, suddenly an explanation for the bruise became painfully apparent. I had only recently taken to leaving the offending object on the floor near the bed and it is highly likely that I'd already hit it once or twice before and either hadn't noticed at the time or forgotten the incident quickly. Once the object was moved, I had no further trouble and my foot quickly recovered!

I'm not suggesting this as a likely explanation for unexplained bruising in haunting cases. However, it does show how bruises CAN appear without someone noticing! When we get a minor knock, it may hurt a lot at the time but the incident is usually quickly forgotten. Who remembers the precise time they last stubbed a toe?

If I'd discover this bruise while staying at a haunted location, it would have been tempting to think it was paranormally caused! There is a tendency to attribute everything that doesn't have an immediately obvious explanation to the haunting in such situations. But similar things happen all the time in non-haunted places and we don't make such assumptions then. Mundane explanations should always be sought first, whether in a haunted place or not!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Telling a ghost from a real person!

ShadowMost ghost witnesses I've met sat that apparitions they've seen look like perfectly ordinary people. It is only the situation (like being locked in an empty house alone) or what the apparition does (like vanish) that give away the figure as a ghost. I had a recent experience which certainly supports this view.

I saw my 'door ghost' once again. For people who are not regular readers, briefly this is a dark figure I see some times standing behind me, reflected in frosted glass. I have discovered that the apparition (a misperception) is actually caused by my own hand, which looks like some feet standing behind me!

As usual, I saw the figure only after I'd forgotten about it. However, on this occasion it turned out that there really WAS someone standing right behind me and it was them I was seeing. But here's the interesting bit - the real person looked much the same as the dark apparition! The difference was, it didn't vanish when I moved!

I have had someone standing beyond me once before (see here). On that occasion I saw the ghost IN ADDITION to the real person. This time I saw the real person AS IF it was the ghost! I said on the last occasion that the real person looked more 'real' than the ghost. This time I had the same slightly weird feeling I get when I see the ghost on its own. It was, perhaps, a case of a person appearing less 'real' as I took them, momentarily, for a ghost!

So what am I to make of this latest bizarre observation? Well, as I mentioned, it backs the idea that ghosts and real people can appear indistinguishable. But what I found really interesting was that I thought I was seeing a ghost when it was a real person! I'm pretty sure this is because I've become used to seeing ghosts in that precise situation. I suppose some kind of expectation has been set up in the unconscious part of my brain (certainly not the conscious bit as I only ever see the ghost when I forget about it). Could this ever apply in spontaneous cases? It seems unlikely as I've never come across a case where the same witness sees a ghost so often in precisely the same location.

The 'door ghost' is proving a mine of useful information about misperception as a cause of apparitions. I'm still trying to induce it appear when I want but no luck so far.

Friday, 21 December 2012

What do these EVPs say?

There are no end of EVP recordings to be found on the web. Most include text telling you what they are supposed to say. So, there's now a new EVP gallery on our site (here) where NO interpretation is given, for now at least, although there are general comments on the recording. New samples will be added over coming months and then interpretations will finally be added. That's where YOU come in! I'd like you to email in your own interpretations of what you hear. This is explained at the top of the gallery page, with a link to the email address to send to.

I have found that the best way to do such interpretations is to listen to each sample repeatedly until something (word or otherwise) suggests itself. If you then concentrate on that interpretation when listening again, it seems to suddenly fit much better. Indeed, other possible interpretations subsequently appear incorrect. I find that listening with eyes closed seems to help as well though I've no idea why. Maybe it's just me! I've no doubt there are many other good ways of doing this. Please send your interpretations in, however you do them. Please check the page periodically as new samples will be added whenever I get them.

End of the world

I couldn't let doomsday go by without mentioning it. I made a joke about the forthcoming 'end of the world' in a shop the other day and, to my surprise, people there understood the reference. Having been around for a while, I survived numerous 'end of the world' days unscathed. Generally, these doomsday predictions are only known about by a small group of interested people. But this one, the Mayan version, seems to be very widely known indeed! I wonder why that is.

Maybe it's because, so far as I know, the Mayan's never actually said what was supposed to happen today, if anything, apart from their calendar going back to the date it was on the day they believe the world started. This appears to have allowed endless scope for interpretation by all sorts of disparate groups of people. They all seem convinced that SOMETHING big will happen today but disagree on what that might be. If it's anything like all the other predicted 'end of the world' days I've survived so far, it shouldn't hurt.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A loud clear voice from nowhere!

Audio spectrogramIt certainly wasn't a whisper! I heard a woman's voice perfectly, loud and clear, uttering one word. I couldn't actually remember the word, perhaps because I was so shocked. That's because I was alone in a locked building! There was no radio or TV on. Being winter, all the windows were firmly shut. Quite simply, there was no obvious reason at all why any voice should be heard! I looked around immediately, trying to find a natural cause for the voice, but could find none. I didn't recognize the voice. I could not avoid the thought that this was a ghost!

It was only by accident that I discovered the source of the voice. Before hearing the ghostly voice I had just been listening to a message on an answerphone. I hadn't bothered to pick up the phone because I heard the message through the loudspeaker. It was a short message. I quickly absorbed what was said and walked away. It was a minute or two later when I heard the crystal clear ghostly voice.

When I next walked near the answerphone, I decided to replay the last message. I don't know why I did this as I was already knew what the message was. What I heard were the words I already knew. But the message continued. There were faint rustling noises and the occasional snatch of a voice. The person who'd phoned had clearly forgotten to terminate the call. It went on for a couple of minutes. Listening from the same position where I'd heard the ghostly voice I could not hear the faint rustling background noises, only a few brief snatches of a louder human voice (not the original caller).

So mystery solved but only because I happened to replay a message which I don't normally ever bother to do in such circumstances. I thought at the time I first replayed the message 'why am I doing this?'. This could be a case of the unconscious part of my brain trying to tell the conscious part something! It's similar to when you walk into a room, stop and think 'why did I come in here?'. Your unconscious knows you need to do something in that room that the conscious part of your brain has forgotten. It can feel a bit like telepathy!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

High expectations!

Shadow ghostSomeone says: "I walked through a green door into a large hallway." Straight away I have a picture in my mind of a particular green door. It is plain, bright green with a plywood exterior, not exactly substantial. The hallway, by contrast is ornate with wood panelling and a chandelier hanging from a high ceiling. The floor is stone with a black and white diamond pattern. Somewhere in the distance I can hear a song by Shakin' Stevens! Is this an example of remote viewing?

Not really. I made up the initial sentence at random just now. There's a good chance that the sentence about the green door and hallway formed a picture in your head too. It may not have been as elaborate as mine and was probably completely different. Whenever someone describes a scene we tend, quite involuntarily, to imagine a version of it. And if you get to visit the scene being described it almost always quite different.

The same thing happens when I hear reports of anomalous phenomena. Someone describes a ghost they've seen and, without the least effort, I can see it in my imagination. If someone reports a solid figure that vanishes, I imagine an apparition fading slowly away to nothingness. In reality, the witness looked away for a couple of seconds and when they turned back the figure was gone! They only ASSUMED it vanished because there was not sufficient time for anyone to have run out of sight! However, if it was a misperception then it is perfectly normal for a 'figure' to vanish when you stop looking at it briefly.

A report of 'object movement' has me visualizing something floating through the air like a scene from a horror movie. The reality is more likely to be that someone noticed an object was not in its normal place! This could be a simple case of faulty memory rather than the paranormal!

Then there are cases where I've actually seen the weird phenomena that others have described. What I visualized was something obviously paranormal. What I actually saw was more prosaic and not difficult to explain by natural causes! I can't give a specific example, unfortunately, because it might identify the site concerned!

Over the years I've been consistently disappointed by accounts that apparently promised obvious paranormal effects but delivered only the xenonormal. Maybe my imagination is too vivid, so it's my own fault! But I get the distinct feeling, when talking to witnesses, that they are a lot more impressed by what appear to me to be prosaic phenomena than I am.

Suppose I am watching a light phenomenon with another person in a haunted building. They see it as paranormal while its prosaic cause is obvious to me. This is no thought experiment, by the way, it has happened! My question is this - do they see exactly what I do or something different? They might be misperceiving and so it will definitely look different, making their interpretation understandable. But what if they are seeing precisely what I do? Do they see it as paranormal because that is how they involuntarily visualized 'the paranormal' would look? Or maybe they didn't know what to expect and saw it as paranormal because (a) they didn't recognise the effect and (b) it was in a haunted location? I don't know the answers to these questions but I'd like to!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Unidentified does not mean anomalous

Mystery photoI sometimes receive anomalous photos, like the one here (right), where it is possible to identify how it was caused but not what it shows! I happen to know what's in this photo because I took it! But if someone had sent it to me, I'd be at a loss!

Here's the problem - some people take an inability to definitively identify such a blurred object as meaning the photo is unexplained or even anomalous. The orange object here is blurred because it is out of focus. It can't be identified from the photo, even after enhancement. But that does not mean the object is paranormal!

You can see the orange object is out of focus, rather than motion-blurred, because there are green bars behind which are also out of focus, though less so. The background is in focus and everything in front is too close to be in focus. The closer to the camera, the more blurred objects are, showing it is a focus issue.

If only the object could be identified, the photographer may quickly realise that it was entirely likely that just such an object could have strayed into the frame unnoticed at the time of exposure. However, while the object remains unidentified the photographer may continue to consider the possibility that they photographed something anomalous when all they did was take an out of focus photo of something mundane! Of course, it is remotely possible that the photo really DOES show something anomalous but, being heavily blurred, we have no evidence to support that conclusion.

In my experience, when there is any 'mystery' left in a photo after it has been analyzed, some people will continue to equate that to the paranormal. Quite simply, 'unidentified' does not mean anomalous in the same way that 'unexplained' doesn't either.

PS: It's Erithacus rubecula!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Jarring ghostly noises!

Great spotted woodpeckerIt was someone else who discovered it but I was just as puzzled as they were. There was a noticeable buzzing noise coming from a dressing table! It sounded like the sort of the sort of buzzing you hear from so many electronic devices these days. Except there were no electronics nearby. Nor was there anything else present that could obviously be responsible for a buzzing. And yet, it was definitely coming from the table because moving around you could hear the sound get louder and fainter over a short distance. Maybe the dressing table was haunted!

It reminded me of an embarrassing incident when I once called out the electricity company to examine a loud buzzing coming from a fuse box. It turned out not to be the fuse box at all but my coat, hanging nearby! There was a pager (remember them!) in a pocket. The buzzing indicated that its battery was running down. Luckily the man from the electric company recognized the sound. Then there was the time when ... but that's another story, as that frustrating cliche goes.

Anyway, investigation of the dressing table finally revealed the noise was coming from a, presumably haunted, plastic jar containing a cream. On opening the jar, whose lid felt slightly loose, the noise stopped immediately. The noise appears to have been made by air escaping through a tiny gap in the not quite tightly sealed jar. The room had recently been warmed up rapidly, which probably started the buzzing as the air inside the jar expanded.

I've no doubt that such trivial mysteries happen to everyone from time to time. Some are, no doubt, solved by those present. Others will simply be ignored. A few may be reported as haunting phenomena - I can think of one actual case straight away. If such an incident is reported as a case it might be very difficult for an investigator to resolve. Take this incident above as an example. If the owner of the jar subsequently secured it tightly, the buzzing would probably never recur. And even if the buzzing DID recur, would an investigator happen to be present when heat caused the noise?

If a reported haunting consists of just one recurring weird phenomenon, there has to be a high probability it has mundane causes, like the jar. If there are several different phenomena reported, it is important to establish if it all started with just one weird thing. That's because there's a possibility that one odd phenomenon, like the 'haunted jar', might make witnesses believe they are in a haunted location when they are not. They may then start to notice lots of mundane background noises that they had ignored before through habituation. It is like starting a New House Effect at a location where someone has already lived for some time!

There is a tendency to think of the cluster of phenomena that typically make up a haunting as having a single cause - a ghost! But it is easy to make a case for one single unexplained phenomenon triggering over-sensitivity to other perfectly normal stuff. It may well be possible to show that all the phenomena in a haunting actually have quite separate mundane causes. It may be a case of seeing the trees for the wood (hence the illustration).

Friday, 14 December 2012

It's a ghost - in theory!

There are many theories floating around concerning how ghosts 'work' and what they really are. I've produced a few myself, none of which I'm proud of! None of these theories ever seem to 'stick', though, and become widely accepted. That's because they have trouble producing testable predictions. Maybe that's because the evidence on which they are based isn't that reliable. For instance, if the sources are newspaper cuttings, books on well-known hauntings or just anecdotes on the web or from friends, you've simply no idea how well the case was investigated, if at all.

Basing a theory on a collection of uninvestigated cases (even if they only make up a minority of the whole sample of accounts) is likely to be a waste of time! What do I mean by an 'investigated' case? It is one where the original witnesses have been carefully interviewed, not too long after the events. It is one where the site of the incident was closely examined by competent investigators. It is one where many different possible natural causes were examined and, if practical, tested. It is one where several different people have contributed their expert knowledge in deciding the most likely cause of the events described. I could go on but I expect you get the idea. A ghost vigil might have taken place but it is rarely illuminating in understanding a case compared to the procedures just mentioned.

By contrast, an uninvestigated case is basically just a nice story. It may well be accurate, as far as it goes, but that may not be anywhere near far enough! Consider the following real-life example: "I could hear someone coming up behind me quickly. As it was daylight and a public space, I wasn't particularly alarmed. But what happened next was definitely unsettling! The person, instead of passing me, vanished into a bush! The young man carried on walking quickly into what I then realised was a large hole in the bush that I'd never noticed before, despite walking past that spot most days! It was clear, from the lack of the sound of breaking twigs, that the hole continued as a sizeable tunnel through the thick, tall undergrowth for some distance. It was clearly a well worn but almost completely concealed path that I'd never noticed before. It is, I think, a shortcut, that avoids a lengthy walk along several streets. It is probably used by several enterprising locals." (from blog here).

Now suppose I'd just happened to turn my head briefly at the moment when the man vanished into the undergrowth. Suddenly, the account could be distinctly ghostly! I would describe being aware of the man and then suddenly he had vanished into thin air. I might have gone to examine the point where he disappeared and discovered the hole in the bush but, in most cases, other witnesses do nothing of the sort. If someone investigated the case they might well discover the hidden path and come up with a probable (and in this case correct) explanation. But left uninvestigated it would remain a mysterious ghostly disappearance. If considered as part of the source material for a ghost theory, it would be seriously misleading.

So anyone devising theories about ghosts really needs to know their sources of evidence well. They should rely on investigated cases from reliable sources. Anything less is likely to produce a mass of conflicting 'evidence' of dubious value leading to some unrealistic theories.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Eliminating natural explanations - or not

It sounded like someone dropped some clothes. The problem was, I knew for certain that there were no such items there! I searched the area where the sound appeared to come from and, at first, found nothing out of the ordinary. Then I opened a cupboard. There was a large heavy plastic bag in a place where it would never normally be. It had clearly fallen from an adjacent pile. Tests, dropping the bag deliberately onto that specific spot, confirmed that it sounded uncannily like clothing tumbling to the floor.

This happened in a place I know well. Now suppose it happened somewhere I'd never visited before. How would I know the bag was out of place? And suppose the place was reputedly haunted. It would be easy to imagine the 'clothes' sound as a ghost passing by unseen.

I read lots of accounts of ghost vigils where it is stated that the people involved tried everything they could think of to reproduce a reported weird effect without success. But experiences like mine, with the plastic bag, make me wonder how likely this process is to be exhaustive. So many vigils take place in locations where few, if any, of the participants are thoroughly familiar with what can be expected as 'normal' there (the new house effect). And what about the normal but highly unusual stuff? I'd never come across the 'plastic bag as clothing' sound before and was able to work it out only by an intimate knowledge of the building.

Eliminating natural explanations is at the core of paranormal investigation. However, it depends on investigators actually considering ALL the likely natural causes for any particular effect, often within a tight time constraint. This is not likely to be successful on a ghost vigil since the people involved are highly unlikely to be intimately aware of every weird effect that might occur naturally there. Not to mention the rare ones!

Is there a solution to this problem? One possibility might be including a regular inhabitant of the building on the ghost vigil. Even then, that person would have to be familiar with all the things that might be misinterpreted as paranormal. While some people regularly pay attention to their surroundings, many don't! The same group doing multiple vigils to the same location would also help, as knowledge of the natural explanations would build up over time. I've seen examples of this and it works! It is telling how, when a location is visited multiple times by the same people, the first vigil always appears to be much more dramatic than subsequent ones. Most of the initial 'activity' ends up explained on subsequent, much quieter, vigils. Bringing in different people with a range of expertise in detecting natural explanations can help too.

I think that, currently, people accept the label 'unexplained' far too easily when it is often more a case of under-explained! I think the results of any one-off ghost vigil at a particular location should be treated with utmost caution.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The rise of the photo-only UFOs

UFOI only saw this UFO when I looked at the photo. It was not obvious at the time of exposure. This is a common introduction to a ghost photo but it is now not unusual with UFO photos. My initial reaction to any photo where the photographer didn't see something weird at the time is that (a) either they simply didn't notice it at the time or (b) it's a photographic artefact. The idea that the object, whether interpreted as ghost or extra-terrestrial spacecraft, was invisible to the naked eye but comes out on a photo, comes way down the list of possibilities I'd consider. But that is just what many people appear to assume.

Let's look at the 'photo-only UFO' here (right). At first sight it has the iconic saucer shape. However, it is not symmetrical, which is a clue to its identity. Also it is obviously blurred, something particularly noticeable around the edges. This means it is either very close and out of focus (it can't be too far and out of focus because the clouds behind are sharp) or motion-blurred. This is where context is vital. In the picture below, we see a larger crop of the same photo.

UFO and gullNow we can see a gull in the same portion of the sky and of similar size. A scan of the whole photo, which is a lot larger, reveals around two dozen gulls in the same view, at various distances from the camera. Almost all the gulls are flying towards or away from the camera, like the one in this second photo. This raises the obvious possibility that the UFO is actually a gull flying at right angles to the camera. In that orientation it will appear (a) to move much faster, probably getting motion-blurred and (b) look a quite different shape with the wings not nearly so obvious. While we cannot say for certain that the UFO is a sideways view of a gull, it certainly becomes the theory to beat! It also fits well with the photographer not having noticed it at the time. With two dozen gulls in view, would the photographer have noticed that one was pointing sideways? And that it was moving quickly enough to become blurred?

As well as birds, I've come across falling leaves and even insects appearing as apparent UFOs. When they appear against the sky it can be impossible to judge their distance or size. And in all the cases I've seen they were motion-blurred, so making their identification less straightforward. Usually it was colour (eg. same as leaves on adjacent tree!) that gave them away though it was of no help in the case above!

There appears to be a general belief around that if something 'only shows up on as photo', it must be anomalous in some way. In reality, the most common cause of this effect is photographic artefacts, like lens flare. And this applies as much to objects photographed in the sky as anywhere else.

Monday, 10 December 2012

More experiments with the ghost

NO green flash!Once again I forgot about the 'door ghost' and, needless to say, saw it again (see here if you've no idea what this is about). I remembered my idea about doing more experiments with the ghost. The problem is, if I plan experiments the memory of them stops me seeing the ghost! So I end up having to make up new experiments at the time of the sighting! What a way to do research!

Anyway, I noticed, perhaps for the first time (who knows), that the ghost appears when I have its reflection in peripheral vision. This, no doubt, assists in the misperception! Having unavoidably 'broken' the misperception by altering my gaze, I tried to reproduce it. I looked at EXACTLY the same angle where I'd seen the 'figure' behind me just seconds before. I placed my hand in the 'right' position. But the hand looked at its real distance rather than much further back. I tried for several minutes, no doubt looking a bit of an idiot to any passers-by, but nothing happened. The hand stubbornly refused to become the feet of a ghostly shadow figure!

So my efforts to 'restart' the misperception are still not working. I CAN keep the misperception going after first seeing it, provided I don't alter my position or gaze. This is despite the fact that I KNOW by then it is my own hand. So it can't be just about knowing what I'm really seeing. The rule appears to be, once the effect is broken you can't fix it! However, I'm stubborn. I'm determined to reproduce the effect to order. I have a theory about how to do it but that will have to wait until next time. If I can remember it!

The photo? I got bored with the shadow pic I've been using to illustrate this topic. Instead, it's my recent attempt to capture a green flash (see here). Conditions appeared perfect until some horizon-hugging clouds appeared to spoil things!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Believe first!

Audio spectrogramPlease listen to this sound link. To me, this is a voice saying a quite distinct word. What do you think? I'll return to it later.

Passing a puddle recently, I noticed its surface rippled. Assuming that I was responsible, I tried deliberately crashing around but it remained stubbornly still. Then I realised what had actually caused the ripple. It was not vibration but a droplet of water from an overhanging rain-soaked object above. Another much more likely cause I didn't even consider at the time was the wind!

But why had I even considered that vibration was responsible, when other possibilities were so much more likely? Then the famous scene from the movie Jurassic Park came to mind! A puddle ripples in the film to indicate the approach of a huge unseen dinosaur. It appeared to me that this movie may have put the idea of ground vibration producing ripples into my mind. After the experience, I deliberately watched puddles at roadsides as heavy traffic passed. Nothing! No ripples. Of course, tyres and vehicle suspension reduce vibration from traffic but even so, it turns out to be quite hard to reproduce the Jurassic Park puddle effect.

This brought me back to a recurring puzzle - why did I start to notice misperception only once I had found out how it worked. It was as if my conscious mind 'allowed' the unconscious part of my brain to show me misperceptions once I realised they were 'normal'. And maybe if I'd never seen Jurassic Park, I wouldn't have even considered one of the least likely causes of puddle ripple first. Of course, vibration can, and does, cause ripples in puddles sometimes but it takes a pretty big thump on the ground to do it.

My understanding of how misperception works could be viewed as a belief. Though it is based on scientific research, it's a belief all the same. But what if I believed, despite the lack of compelling evidence, that there were alien spacecraft visiting Earth regularly? I might well misperceive all sorts of unrecognized objects in the sky as alien craft. I think belief may open a sort of 'gate' in perception. It doesn't affect the things we see well. But those things that are misperceived, through being poorly seen, may be transformed into what we believe we will see, like alien craft.

Back to the EVP clip above. I think it sounds like a breathy voice saying 'tapped' or something similar. You might hear a different word, or just noise. If you hear paper being rustled, good for you, because that is exactly what it is! So, how come I still hear it as a voice, even though I KNOW it is paper? I think it is because I understand that certain sounds, when they contain simultaneous frequency peaks in simple harmonic ratios, are heard as speech no matter what their source (formant noise). So I have no trouble hearing voices where there are none because I know it's just the way the brain works. Someone not convinced by this argument may just hear rustling paper! And someone who didn't know it was paper might think it was a real voice. We perceive according to what we believe!

You can see a spectrogram of the sound in the diagram. You can see prominent simultaneous frequency peaks even in this small picture (the lines of peaks heading like ridges towards the bottom left). Some non-speech sources of sounds produce frequency peaks in simple harmonic ratios naturally. Such sounds can be heard as voices, in certain circumstances. Some EVP recordings are probably caused by this phenomenon.

When you come across a witness who is absolutely convinced that they saw an alien space craft, it is perfectly possible that they did! One possibility is that such a craft was actually physically present. But another one is that they had a belief that might see one and misperceived a more mundane aerial object. It think that belief, whether well-founded or otherwise, can literally affect how (and what) we perceive.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A ghostly footstep too far

Ghostly soundsAlone in a locked building, I recently heard what sounded like a footstep. And it certainly wasn't mine! Was it a ghost? Regular readers will no doubt be expecting me to explain how I found a simple natural explanation for it. However, just for a change, I didn't, despite looking! However, that does not mean I concluded that it probably WAS a ghost, as some people might have.

Had this incident been part of an on-going series of inexplicable noises, particularly footsteps, I might have been tempted to think it was a haunting phenomenon. Even then, I would have wanted to do an exhaustive search for possible natural explanations first. On this occasion there was no time to do that.

I thought I'd mention this incident just to show that there ARE sometimes weird things that happen in my life that I can't explain. If I was even tempted to jump to the conclusion that it was a ghostly step, another recent incident would have dissuaded me. I was in a shop when I heard the loud sound of a child screaming nearby. I looked around but saw nothing. Then I realised the sound was caused by me! It was the sole of my shoe rubbing on the wooden floor giving a dramatically convincing impression of a child's scream.

We misperceive sound much more readily than things we see. That's no doubt because when you see an object, you get so much more sensory information about it, compared to hearing its sound. You can see its shape, colour, transparency, reflectiveness and so on. If you hear an object, all you get is a varying wavelengths of sound and not much else. There are far more different things that sound identical compared to those that look the same! In addition, to see an object we usually need to have it in line of sight and so get light straight from it. By contrast, sounds frequently arrive from objects round corners, by diffraction and reflection. These processes can distort the sound making it less recognisable (see diagram).

Sound is the commonest reported haunting phenomenon. Perhaps this isn't surprising given how easy it is to misinterpret. I suppose it also depends on the context and expectation. If you hear a footstep when you know you're alone, you might think 'ghost'. If you hear an object falling, in the same situation, you might think you didn't stack some books well! My ghostly footstep could have had any one of a number of mundane causes. Now had I seen a human figure walking past me, I might have been more easily persuaded it was a ghost!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Hidden in plain sight - the meaning of meaninglessness

Hidden in plain sight - the meaning of meaninglessness

One of the big differences between fictional anomalous experiences and real life ones is that the latter seem overwhelmingly meaningless compared to the former. A real life UFO experience is generally just an unidentified light in the sky. A real life haunting may simply consist of a few unexplained sounds and a feeling of an unseen presence. Neither would make much of a movie plot!

It is one of those odd facts, hidden in plain sight, that most paranormal researchers implicitly know without ever discussing (like haunting hot spots). Look at a typical haunting case and you will usually see a collection of events which appear to have no obvious 'purpose' or point. Usually certain events (maybe a noise with no obvious cause) are repeatedly reported from particular locations (those haunting hot spots) at unpredictable intervals. Taken together, the events comprising any particular haunting usually lack any obvious focus or meaning. Unlike the events portrayed in fictional representations of hauntings which are usually highly meaningful and often relevant to the plot.

So, what does the general 'meaningless' of events reported in anomaly cases tell us, if anything? Well, it doesn't fit at all well with the commonly-held idea that ghosts are spirits and that they carry out hauntings (neither of which is supported by compelling evidence). It fits much better with the idea that most haunting phenomena have natural causes. If there is a weird noise with purely natural causes within a building then, clearly, it has no 'meaning' and so is likely to appear random and meaningless. This fits with the fact that many haunting phenomena in cases prove, on careful investigation, to have natural causes.

So, maybe the apparent meaninglessness of the events in many ghost (and other anomaly) cases is trying to tell us something! It points in the same direction as haunting hot spots - towards the idea that most such cases have a variety of different natural causes. There may well be truly paranormal cases out there but the high level of 'meaninglessness' would tend to point to them being rare! Of course, it could be that real paranormal cases appear meaningless, too! Even if that is the case, it still doesn't support the idea of ghosts being spirits with purpose and motivation. However, it does not rule out such possibilities as 'recording ghosts' or similar ideas.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Experimenting with a ghost!

ShadowThere are very few ghost cases where there are prolonged sightings of an apparition. And I can think of no cases where the appearance of an apparition is predictable. So, any case combining those elements would be priceless, allowing serious investigation of exactly how ghosts work!

I haven't found a case like that, sadly, but I do have something similarly useful in my 'door ghost' or 'doppelganger' (see here). Briefly, I occasionally clearly see the reflection (in frosted glass) of a shadowy figure standing behind me. On turning round, there is no one there! I think that qualifies it as a ghost!

Investigation has led me to the conclusion that the 'figure', or at least its 'feet', are my own hand (!) reflected in the glass against a fairly featureless background. It is a misperception, apparently caused by mistaking the size and distance (as well as identity) of my hand (see here). The ghost always appears in the same position, meaning it is repeatable. And it can appear for prolonged periods, as long as I don't 'break' the misperception by moving. So it is a ghost that can be experimented on!

I did my first experiment recently. I noticed the ghost in its usual position. As ever, I had forgotten about it before it appeared! There are certain limited circumstances where a useless memory can be useful and this is one of them. Someone else would no doubt be prepared for the ghost every time they were at the door, so preventing its appearance! Only being able to see the ghost once I've forgotten its existence is a bit like being caught up in the plot of a weird movie! Cue cliche about life being stranger ...

So for my first experiment, I deliberately 'broke' the misperception by changing position and the ghost duly vanished. Then I resumed the exact position where the ghost usually appeared and looked at the reflection in the correct way. Nothing! No ghost! I already knew that once a misperception is broken it ill not reappear. However, that was based on experience. In this case, I demonstrated the point experimentally.

The fact that that an investigator suspects that a misperception is responsible for a particular ghost report can make it difficult to reproduce! As the investigator is aware of the effect, they are unlikely to see it, even if they are in exactly the right position in the correct lighting conditions. What is needed is an assistant who is NOT aware of the supposed misperception and so will not be expecting it. I am not sure (a) how practical this is or (b) of the ethics involved! Perhaps there could be a willing assistant involved who is deliberately, with their full knowledge, kept in the dark about where anything has be seen. Then they could examine several nominated sites within a building, only one of which has produced any sightings, to see if they witness anything. I'm not sure what we'd make of them seeing an apparition at one of the control sites. But it would be worth some experimentation I think.